Beauty Pageants: Empowering or Degrading?
Carrie Laudie | Editor in Chief | @carrielaudie
We live in a culture where a woman is still prized for her beauty. Despite years of the feminist movement, this is a cold hard fact. But behind the pretty and seemingly extravagant façade of the beauty pageant world, are young women who are passionate about serving and representing their community.There is one big similarity between a journalist and a beauty queen; we both want to change the world. I work with a bunch of idealists who believe that the pen, or in our case the keyboard, is mightier than the sword. I sit at my desk on any given day and try to make a difference in the world by educating others, through my writing, about the issues and social injustices around me. Each contestant in a scholarship pageant, particularly those that are associated with Miss America, has to promote a platform.For Miss UVU Madison Tormey, it is the dangers of distracted driving, for Miss Lehi Brynn Christensen, a UVU student, it is bullying.“For me it was all about the service aspect of my platform,” said Christensen. “It’s different for every girl, and they can get different things out of it, but I just learned for myself that I get the most out of it when it is for service and not necessarily preparing for the pageant.”The Miss Utah competition was held this year on Saturday June 20 and there were six contestants participating from UVU, including Tormey and Christensen.
The other contestants from UVU were Miss Utah County Lauren Wilson, Miss South Jordan Lexi Yraguen, Miss Cache Valley Morgan Flandro and Miss Pleasant Grove Stephanie Acerson.
UVU has held, in one form or another, the Miss UVU scholarship pageant for the last 35 years. There is a wall on the second floor of the Sorensen Student Center with pictures of, respectively, Miss UTC, Miss UVCC, Miss UVSC and Miss UVU winners.
UVU is also one of only three institutions of higher learning in the state that sent a contestant to Miss Utah in 2015, and in 2010 and 2011 Miss UVU walked away with the crown at Miss Utah.
Every time that the phrase ‘scholarship pageant’ is said, the voice of Sandra Bullock goes through my head. “Miss Congeniality” is a movie that will be forever associated with the pageant world, because it was wildly popular 10 years ago and also because that is what it is about. Many of the humorous points in the plot have become enmeshed in our culture, such as the best date: April 25, or one of my favorite lines to quote ‘beauty is pain.’
While the movie “Miss Congeniality” might not have much depth – there is more to the pageant world than meets the eye. Pun intended. Being involved with competitions takes a lot of work; the contestants are eating healthy, exercising, promoting a service platform and staying up to date on current events and issues. (Another similarity to journalists.)
For many involved, it is a family affair. Many of the women competing are second or third generation contestants. And many are repeat titleholders competing at Miss Utah for a second or third time, and many of the girls catch the ‘pageant bug’.
“After you compete, you just fall in love with the process and the change that comes form you. It’s unbelievable how much you change and how much you progess as an individual,” said Christensen.
Different contestants get started for different reasons. For some it is the family legacy and others see the potential for a scholarship to attend college. Many of the local competitions provide a hefty sum for their titleholder; Miss Utah receives a $10,000 scholarship and Miss America receives a $50,000 scholarship.
An interesting tidbit is that contestants aren’t allowed to be pregnant, married or engaged while they hold a title. In fact, Miss Utah 2014 had to get special permission to get engaged in May, when her reign was coming to an end. For many of these women, putting off marriage is a small price to pay for the experience that they get from holding a title.
The amount of time and dedication required for the contestants, between pageant preparation and making appearances at events can be exhausting for the women involved, but it is something that they look forward to doing, even though it is a job and a big responsibility, it is also very rewarding work.
“It’s an experience that is different than I ever thought it would be. It’s given me so many service opportunities and given me the opportunity to build relationships and gain self-confidence and to get to know myself a lot better,” said Tormey about her responsibilities as Miss UVU.
All in all, the pageant world is a place that promotes having women become well-rounded individuals who give back to society.
Through social skills, physical fitness, developing and performing a talent, providing service to those around you and also being aware of current events. I think that if we required a program like this for everyone that the world would be a better place.
Despite the negativity that can surround the pageant world, I would prefer to live in a world of idealists who are trying to change the world, than in a world of cynics who view the world through a lens of apathy.
Tiffany Frandsen | Managing editor | @tiffany_mf
But there’s more—points were also awarded for eyes, mouth, nose and hands. Women were literally being broken down into specific categories and judged (they weren’t judged on skin, which would have had to have been thicker than well-done steak).
Because the organizers wanted to prove that they were a respectable and legitimate program, they added the on stage question, the talent portion and the platform.
It was a good direction to take. But then they didn’t get rid of the initial reason they were trying to prove they weren’t disrespectful, and that’s why women are still paraded across a stage wearing swimsuits and evening wear.
Those two categories (15 percent for swim, 20 for evening wear) make up 35 percent of the overall score. Platforms (zero percent. Zero) and stage question (5 percent) are so minimal a contestant could literally stand and drool, but if she’s beautiful and has a decent talent (35 percent, the highest chunk), could sweep the competition.
Scholarship program or beauty pageant, the organizers have a branding problem—if they want to be taken seriously as not a beauty pageant, they are challenged by decades of engraining.
The stereotype—which, like many stereotypes, lacks a certain panache, as well as a grasp on the reality of the program—is that the women who enter are shallow, self-absorbed and (how to put this graciously … ) value appearance far above substance of either personality or brains.
This needs to be emphasized with the brashness of ’70s wallpaper: These women are not idiotic. They are taking advantage of a scholarship opportunity, and for that, they deserve respect.
But instead, the on-stage question has (unintentionally, and not by organizers) turned into a search to expose the bimbo, the slowest thinker. And when one is found, it gives the impression that the percentage of contestants with fluff for brains is higher than it is.
And even then, there is a crucial consolation when we find her: It’s OK, because you’re pretty.
If someone with a weak on-stage answer wins, the message is “You’re pretty. Here is some money to prove that your prettiness is worth something,” which then perpetuates the idea that there is value in being physically attractive.
To a degree, that is true because of the society we have set up—pretty people are treated differently, and those who are pretty enough are given jobs that are based on those looks.
But for the majority of transactions on this earth, beauty is worth nothing.
Because we don’t walk around with our eyes locked in hand-held mirrors (for a myriad of reasons, including public safety), we don’t really get utility out of the placement of our eyes—as long as they are in relatively the right place—what color they are, or what size they are, the fact that they are attached to our faces gives us utility. They are useful because they let us see, not because someone else finds them attractive.
What we look like isn’t for ourselves. It’s not even really for other people—but it sure makes identifying each other easier, and there are advantages to attraction. The amount that society cares about looks, or that we think society cares about looks, is perpetuated by that transaction: “You’re pretty. Here is some money to prove that your prettiness is worth something.”
That transaction gives the idea that we are OK with someone else valuing our appearances, that because a panel of judges came to the conclusion that her beauty is worth X amount of scholarship dollars, the door has been opened for others to give their input.
But that precedent was not intentional. Or appreciated.
Instead, let’s shift the emphasis of this program and reward the contestant based on their work on the platform they choose to run on and their private interview (which, at 25 percent, isn’t too shabby)—the aspects that will legitimately bring utility to herself (or himself, fingers crossed), as well as the majority of society.
Carrie is the Editor in Chief for the 2015-2016 school year.